Follow the crazy cult of Golf R



A minibus driver pulled up next to me at a traffic light in the East Rand. From the corner of my eye, I caught his and his front-seat passenger’s gesticulations. At first I thought the hurried vertical waving was to berate me. Had I perhaps cut him off without realising? And then the penny dropped. They were asking me to put foot. They wanted to see the dark blue haze that leaves nothing but a turbo pop behind.

Being on a quiet road fairly late at night, I saw no reason not to indulge them with a quick pull-off.

That’s the thing about the Golf R. Everybody knows you bought it for one purpose and one purpose only. To go fast.

The 2019 version is no different. It’s been updated and tweaked a bit, as all cars must be, but it remains the vehicle you have always feared or admired.

This is the niche model of the Golf range. The path that only the truest cultists go down. You know, the guys that spend their weekends at car clubs with other guys who have a “VW” emblazoned on their cap.

If you love Volkswagens and hot hatches, the rationale for getting one of these is as clear as the roads you crave. If not, well, you’ll probably be asking instead: “Over R700k for a Golf?”

Okay, technically they start at R684 400 but that’s still R100 000 more than where the GTI begins. Apart from a few select finishings, it’s aesthetically a carbon copy. So why drop the extra cash? Why get this when you’re operating on a budget that can get you a BMW 4 Series?

Again, to the enthusiast the answer is obvious. You want this car because it’s the purest representation of its artform.

Think of Plato’s parable of the cave in which the prisoner can never turn back after she has realised that what she thought was reality was actually only shadows on a wall. After driving the Golf R, almost every other hatchback, let alone a Golf, feels like a lazy mimicry of what is possible.

Suffice to say, there aren’t too many vehicles on the road that can take you to the places this one can. The rough rumble the trademark four exhausts make on start-up should be adequate warning of what you’re getting yourself into. But the trepidation quickly turns to exhilaration. The fact that the sturdy four-wheel-drive makes handling effortless does nothing to encourage calmer use of the 228 kW engine.

Which brings me to the day after the robot incident. I’ve been persuaded by a friend to do one of those Toyota Warrior things — a glorified obstacle course. We leave early for Riversands Farm, near Kyalami, and have some open roads to enjoy.

Stef, my companion, left the Netherlands a year ago. An outgoing kind of guy, South Africa gives him the opportunity to live the weekend screwball life he craves and has vowed never to leave the country. The significance of a fast Golf on our roads has not been lost on him either.

He eagerly whips out his phone and insists we test various timings. We couldn’t exactly do thorough testing — given that we of course respect the rules of our roads — but let’s just say the claimed 0-100km/h time of 4.8 seconds doesn’t stray very far from the truth.

After the race we take an open shower to wash away the mud, grab a bite to eat at the market and then head back home.

Given our fatigued muscles we had lost the enthusiasm to push the car to its (or the law’s) limits. We enjoyed a relaxing trip back with the sunroof open. Which is perfectly fine. Because despite it being a certified beast, the Golf R is rather comfortable. You can conveniently set your mode on the infotainment system — choosing between race, eco, normal and comfort — which in theory should influence your experience of the vehicle. Remember also that it’s a pricey Volkswagen and VW has a strong record of doing its best to give you trimmings that don’t lack quality.

But again it all goes back to the fact that no one will buy this vehicle for something as practical as quality. You get the Golf R to feel a thrill, one that you will have trouble finding down many other avenues. Is it worth it? Definitely. Is it a practical purchase? That all depends on the proclivities of your soul.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.


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